Venice was the third stop on our Grand Italian tour. You can read all about our time in Verona, our second stop, here.
Nothing can prepare you for that first time you step out of the rail station in Venice. You’re immediately immersed in a traditional Venetian scene, with canals and gondolas and those little barber-shop striped mooring poles. There will be plenty of time to admire the views but for now we need to navigate the vaporetto network and find our hotel.
Unlike the more conventional bus with wheels in Verona, the Venetian floating type is incredibly easy to use. We purchase our biglietti from the ticket booth and locate the No 2 “bus stop”. Remembering to validate our tickets in the little machines outside, we surge forward with everyone else when the boat arrives. Although busy, we find a space where we can experience our first water trip quite comfortably. I claim the vaporetto to be my favourite ever mode of transport. I want to arrive everywhere by boat in future.
Funnily enough, I make the same claim three years later when arriving in Tortaguero, Costa Rica. You can read more about that boat trip here.
We disembark at Rialto, along with many of our fellow passengers. The hotel has provided us with rudimentary directions. Surely this tiny narrow alleyway can’t be the way? Apparently it is. Heavy wheeled suitcases and Venice are not a match made in heaven. It’s busy and it’s hot, and we’re relieved to eventually stumble upon Hotel San Gallo.
We’re not so relieved to discover the staircase up to reception. Or that we’re on the top floor of a hotel with no lift. Remember, we’re not travelling light. However, we’re charmed to discover the little rooftop terrace right next to our room, which will double up as our breakfast location. At last, after two single night hotel stays, we can unpack. I wave some clothes around in a valiant but futile attempt to de-crease. Mr Fletche is still smug about his “rolling” technique, leaving his clothes slightly less creased.
Finding a relatively inexpensive hotel in the centre of Venice was a true challenge. Certain luxuries had to be sacrificed (definitely no mini-bar or slippers here) but the location of Hotel San Gallo cannot be beat. Just two minutes’ walk and we’re experiencing our first glimpse of St Mark’s Square.
It’s everything you expect and more. Lots of people, lots of pigeons. Oh, and lots of those pesky selfie-stick sellers too. As happens so often on our travels, the basilica is half covered in scaffolding. The famed orchestras outside the extraordinarily expensive cafes are already playing, offering free entertainment to those that don’t mind standing. It’s busy but thankfully not as busy as I expected. There are long snaking queues to enter the basilica and Doges Palace though. It’s a beautiful, warm, sunny day. Too warm to be stuck inside with all the other tourists. In fact all we need now is an Aperol Spritz or two…
Aperol Spritz in Venice are not as cheap as Aperol Spritz in Verona. In fact, at Al Todaro, we pay an eyewatering 7 euros more than the ones we’d enjoyed the night before. Still, the view of the Grand Canal and a nice shady spot it was more than worth it. And the service by polite white-jacketed waiters make us feel like VIPs.
After an hour soaking up the views and excellent snacks, we decide to visit the chiesa we have been so admiring over on San Giorgio Maggiore, so we say ciao and grazie and head to the San Marco “bus-stop”. Instead of individual tickets, we purchase 3-day tickets for 40 euro each. We’ll be using the vaporetto a lot so we see the financial benefits of procuring a pass.
The No 2 goes to San Giorgio. The island is so close we could probably swim to it. However we inadvertently get on the waterbus going in the other direction. It does stop at San Giorgio, but instead of the first stop, it’s the final stop. This means that we do a tour of the entire Grand Canal. We sit back and enjoy the slow but scenic journey.
By the time we get to San Giorgio Maggiore, we are in need of acqua and la toilette. Unfortunately the only café on the island is closed so after snapping a few pictures we return on the No 2 to San Marco. We manage to get the right waterbus this time. By the time we disembark we’re so close to the hotel that it’s easier and quicker to return there for a quick comfort break
Comfort break completed, we retrace our way towards the Rialto. Thankfully this time without suitcases in tow. Like the basilica, the Rialto is also hidden under scaffolding and a false facade. With no particular route in mind we wander around the San Polo area for a while. We eschew the back-street osterie and bacari for a more touristy ristorante. Our choice, Ai Coghi is a bit “meh”. I have veal cutlet with mushrooms which is fine; Mr Fletche’s spaghetti with shrimp is more spaghetti than shrimp. The seafood is almost non-existent. When the bill arrives, it’s a good deal more than we expect after a quick totting up in our heads. Our neighbouring diners query the same issue. It’s an unspecified “service tax” apparently. Still, the wine was good.
We decide to complete our evening by taking in the atmosphere of St Mark’s Square. We join the hordes sitting on the steps and listen to the “duelling” orchestras. Venice is rapidly becoming one of my favourite places. With the square softly lit by lanterns and a gentle breeze blowing in from the lagoon I can feel my eyes closing as my head rests on Mr Fletche’s shoulder. Luckily there’s just a few steps (and a few stairs) between St Mark’s Square and bed.
My head has barely touched the pillow when the alarm goes off. However, the alarm is not for me. It is for Mr Fletche. Early morning Venice is a photographer’s dream, before the hordes of tourists are released onto the street. So I wave arrivederci to Mr Fletche, stumbling around in our darkened room at 5:30am, and settle down for another couple of hours of sonno.
Mr Fletche finally returns and we amble outside for our rooftop breakfast. I’m a particular fan of the apricot jam-filled warm croissants served fresh to each table. We discuss today’s plan. When planning Venice, friends who had visited told us to “get lost”. After initially taking offence, we realised that they were telling us to quite literally get lost. Get off the beaten path. Follow little alleyways that may or may not end up in the canal version of a dead end. Mix the tourist hotspots with undiscovered local gems. So with a rough map in our heads, we head out with no particular place to go.
We cross Rialto, and wander around the San Polo district, stopping for a cappuccino in a tiny square. I don’t generally drink coffee, but I’m now practically a native so coffee it is. We pass churches, basilicas and bridges aplenty as we amble into the Dorsoduro district. We emerge somewhere near the Gallerie dell’Accademia and get our bearings. The sun is over the yardarm. It must be time for an Aperol Spritz. There’s a routine forming here.
Finding somewhere you passed just 10 minutes earlier proves to be something of a challenge. Nothing seems to be where it was earlier. We find a quaint little square, Campo San Barnaba, and get the requisite Spritz at a café overlooking the church. A short stroll takes us on to Campo Santo Margherita, where we stop for a shared pizza and salad at Fuori Rotta. We like this area a lot, and if we can ever find this lively square again we’ll be back for more.
After lunch here we wander aimlessly until we get to Pizzale Roma. This is pretty much the only place you can find vehicles with wheels in Venice. We get our favourite vaporetto No 2, past the huge cruise ships to Zattere. We stroll along the waterfront, but it’s getting very hot in the afternoon sun and there’s very little shade. Finally we find a shady spot near the impressive Santa Maria della Salute. This is the basilica that we were admiring yesterday from our spritz stop on the canal. The nearest bridge back across the canal is something of a walk away, so we jump on the No 1 vaporetto for a quick one-stop to San Marco. This is when purchasing the 3-day pass is well worth the money. It’s time for a short late afternoon snooze and the chance to freshen up.
We continue our aimless wandering into the evening, but the first stop is the No 2 over to Giudecca. We stop at a waterfront café – Spritz time! – and chat to a lovely Australian woman touring Europe and the UK. A love of travel brings so many people together! We walk along the waterfront taking in the views across the canal of central Venice. This would be a fab place to stay on a future visit… so much quieter but only a 5 minute vaporetto ride to the main bustling tourist areas. We walk almost the length of the island, and then get the 4.1 waterbus from Palanca round to Pizzale Roma.
We dine at Ristorante Rio Novo; canalside dining equals 1 euro per person cover charge but the food is pleasant, the location is good and 1 litre of wine costs roughly the same as a small glass of water. We sit and enjoy the wine for much longer than it takes to eat our meal, and the small cover charge ensures there is no pressure for us to move on. Eventually, the wine is finto and we weave our way merrily through to Dorsoduro, over the wooden Accademia bridge, losing ourselves in the streets and squares of San Marco. We know in true Hogwarts style these alleyways won’t exist tomorrow so we savour the sights, sounds and smells of each one just in case.
When we return to our hotel Mr Fletche checks his app which measures our steps. We’ve been averaging around 20,000 steps but today we’ve done a massive 30,000. My feet are being held together by plasters as each pair of shoes seems to rub in a different place, but each step has taken us on a wonderful journey and we can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.
Tomorrow…colour aplenty and a special treat on St Mark’s Square…